ratte futures 3

Futures: Transitions

Between the election and the inauguration in the United States is a period known unpoetically as the “transition.” Our own transition feels like a categorical shift, a break in the paradigm. It is closer to Gramsci’s definition of the interregnum – “the crisis…that the old is dying and the new cannot be born.” The synonyms here don’t fit: progression, shift, evolution. Antonyms feel more like the truth: decline, cease, or decrease.

Historically, the interregnum is also one of indeterminate length and reads more like a state of exception in which normal operations are suspended and the outcome is unclear. Though the outcome of the elections are more or less clear, the transition our state is currently in is far from determined.The state of transitions is not necessarily finite, or even countable. A state of transition in chemical terms is a moment that offers the greatest source of potential energy or transformation. This interregnum in the nation-state is transempirical: beyond experiential knowledge. The beyond, also, of empire. We go across, through; we change thoroughly. We transition.

The proper posture here is the question, followed by the speculation, which at least admits a certain amount of uncertainty. However, we must begin to propose potential answers, potential paths forward to begin our own transition because the “old” does not die on its own, but through the emergence of alternate routes out. These too will be beyond documented knowledge. A progression, shift, or evolution. These possible futures won’t be a single-authored solution, but a scattering of them, a swelling of collectives until a new form is born.

For this renewed series of Futures, we will ask an ongoing series of questions on transitions within art and politics across platforms meant to prompt responses in the form of comments on this post, as well as on Facebook and Twitter, with commissions to follow. We are seeking speculative responses, concrete proposals and contemplative meditations in any form. All responses will be gathered together in a final text and can be sent to james(at)temporaryartreview.com.

Prompt: Post election, where does the art world go from here?

Speculations in comments.

There are 9 comments

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  1. James McAnally

    Initial observations to question #1:

    1. The art world shaped by the 1% must be categorically rejected. We cannot watch the world reshape itself in shock and not remake our own structures. If we take the US elections as an analogue, this is represented in the Republican takeover of almost all levels of government, but also the reactive politics of the DNC. In many forms, the art world has characteristics of each of these in its murky markets and rapid financialization under cover of culture (like Trump’s insider dealing under cover of populism) or protectionist liberalism embodied in institutions that project progressive ideals while actually undermining progressive policies.

    2. If we take the grassroots “revolution” (embodied most clearly in Bernie Sanders’s campaign) as the fork not taken, the mistake that led to the precipice, what does that mean for the arts? One proposal: take revolution seriously. The demographics of the future are in our favor. Likewise, our ways of working, our organizations, our experiments should trend towards responsiveness, grassroots efforts, and the concerns of the working class.

    3. To that last point, the art world cannot afford to be cut off from the voice of the people. We talk about audience, but that audience includes Rural America, Latinx America, Black America, Queer America. The funding may be gone soon and all we’re left with is ourselves. Who is that?

  2. anon

    “The art world shaped by the 1% must be categorically rejected.”

    Maybe now we can stop painting triangles and lines? Corporations and collectors love this stuff, because it appreciates well and doesn’t bring in any pesky “issues” like representation.

  3. Mel

    I think the question is somewhat faulty. It is not where the art world goes from here, but where the artists, the cultural workers (aka gallery owner, museum curator, art non-profit director, etc), and, yes, the collectors go from here.

    • James McAnally

      I’m sympathetic to your point, as these groups all make up different constituencies of the art world, potentially with different agendas and end goals. The question in that regard becomes how to build in solidarity as an activated concept within art: could collectors act in solidarity with artists, not as speculators or investors, but to support a new vision for the (art) world? Do artists and cultural workers act in solidarity with other social groups to likewise reshape political realities? Does the art world as a constellation of constituencies act in the interest of marginalized communities or to expand outside of our now well-established echo chambers?

      If it can’t do that, can we at least clearly articulate those divisions? Not that we can only collaborate with those whose politics we agree with, but if solidarity is central, how do we organize better towards those ends?

    • James McAnally

      This is a great collection of “answers.” I’m most struck by the Stephen Wright quote:

      “For to see something as art according to the dominant performative paradigm of the contemporary artworld, is to acknowledge something terribly debilitating: that it is just art – not the dangerous, litigious, real thing. It is not my intent to deny that art can, on occasion, do what Rancière claims it can: for the artworld élite that likes that sort of thing, the concentrated, composed and self-reflective works one finds in museums have a disruptive value that is far from negligible.”

      I don’t think that art as a category is the issue but the “performative paradigm of the contemporary artworld” as Wright describes it, which has overwritten how we interact with and understand art. The artworld can be a bit like Facebook. We lobby critiques about how Facebook’s dissemination of information is problematic on Facebook because it, practically, serves this purpose relatively well (or at least better than other options) despite our disdain for it. The artworld in this sense is a compromised tool needing both critique to see how it also compromises the rest of us, as well as an alternative to replace it. Our critiques (and expansions) of art still happen within the artworld, which is why I feel that expanding that terrain by advocating the areas of it I can still support and dismantling those that perpetuate this problematic logic is still worthwhile.

      To bring it back to the question, that work is more urgent now because we can see the danger of believing that the contemporary artworld is “an inherently political and almost subversive place” when it is, at best, only symbolically subversive and, at worst, cynically and superficially subversive towards compromised ends.

  4. Randall Szott

    As I hint at in my string of quotes and images, it is a question (for which the answer perpetually escapes) of who the *we* is…and the notion of *critique* must also be addressed (if not critiqued). That is, Wright et. al. are pointing to an elsewhere, to many who are not “we” and that engage in something very different from art world critique. Luc Boltanski might say that what you are calling critique is actually metacritique – “theoretical constructions that aim to unmask, in their most general dimensions, oppression, exploitation, or domination…nothing more than the lamentation of rootless intellectuals, cut off from belonging to a community, and, as a result, having abandoned even the desire to transform it.”

    As to art being, at best, symbolic this is faint praise indeed as Paul Willis would counter – “Art is taken as the only field of qualitative symbolic activity…We insist, against this, that imagination is not extra to daily life, something to be supplied from disembodied art.”

    I think this leads to the further conundrum of wanting to separate “art as a category” from the art world. I would offer that this is as problematic as trying to remove humans from their ecosystemic context. But maybe we will talk past one another because you posit that the “old is dying,” whereas I would say the old was *stillborn*, dead on arrival. So, I would make a suggestion for your list of antonyms – decomposition.

    Rather than staying at the funeral, or perpetually mourning art’s death I propose something simple – scatter its ashes and move on with your life. Or, as the VFW (of all places) proposes, “honor the dead by helping the living.”

    • James McAnally

      At the center of both of our positions seems to be a simple question: “Does art do what it claims?” I think we would both, in most cases, say no – especially if we are talking about politically oriented art and its effect on the world. Going back to Wright’s point, I would echo that “it is not my intent to deny that art can, on occasion, do what [the artworld] claims it can.” To me, the important point is the way that the few occasional cases that do “work” in some concrete sense are used as cover for entire economies built on presenting themselves as if they are attempting to have political implications or a real-world existence, though they only actually aspire to circulation within the the closed sphere of contemporary art. This cover could be called the contemporary artworld, which itself is the only true beneficiary.

  5. Olinde Rodrigues

    The way forward in our new environment could also signal a return. From the origination of the phrase avant-garde within art:

    “Let us unite. To achieve our one single goal, a separate task will fall to each of us. We, the artists, will serve as the avant-garde: for amongst all the arms at our disposal, the power of the Arts is the swiftest and most expeditious. When we wish to spread new ideas amongst men, we use, in turn, the lyre, ode or song, story or novel; we inscribe those ideas on marble or canvas, and we popularize them in poetry and in song. We also make use of the stage, and it is there above all that our influence is most electric and triumphant. We aim for the heart and imagination, and hence our effect is the most vivid and the most decisive. If today our role seems limited or of secondary importance, it is for a simple reason: the Arts at present lack those elements most essential to their success—a common impulse and a general scheme.”

    Towards a new avant-garde? Let us unite. Who is “us” here? Who does the artist need to unite with? What is this common impulse or strategy?

    (Olinde Rodrigues, The artist, the scientist and the industrialist, 1825)

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